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January 1978 · Vol. 7 No. 1 · pp. 35–38 

Tabor College. The Future: Controlled, or in Control?

Joel A. Wiebe

Concern for the future is always appropriate. Christ, in one of His parables, said, “Which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it?” Futuristic planning seems especially appropriate for a church-related college in a time when many prophets foretell the demise of the small private or church-related college. It seems in place when the talk in educational journals is of “learning to manage decline,” and when “zero-based budgeting” is in vogue in the attempt to keep costs down and keep the small college viable financially.

Those who direct a college must look in two directions when planning. First, they must look back at their beginning, to the need which existed when the college was born. What was the need? Does it still exist? What did the founders have in mind? Is their philosophy of education still a valid one today? If not, what should be the goals and objectives today? Second, they must look to the future. What is the nature of the curriculum which grows out of the objectives and philosophy of the college? More important, in view of population decline and continued inflation, will this program excite students in sufficient numbers to warrant having a college? Will donors see fit to support the program?

At Tabor, much time has been given last year and this to the considerations indicated above. A Future of the College Committee was established. The Committee began, logically, with a consideration of the goals and objectives of Tabor. Over a period of time the Committee, in interaction with faculty and administrators in Faculty Forum meetings, hammered out a tentative statement. It begins with rather broad statements, such as, “. . . the purposes and operational guidelines of the school are to be derived from the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith.” While the first section is presented in philosophical language, the authors used a metaphor to summarize and give clarity. “Tabor College is the child of the church (it carries out the church’s mandate); it is the parent of the church (it interprets God’s will to the church); and it is the sibling of the church (it contributes to the church through special gifts). As it moves along, the statement becomes more specific, moving from the Philosophical Statement to Mandate, and then to Operating Objectives, and finally to Specific Areas of Implementation. Under Operating Objectives one {36} statement reads as follows: “The training of leadership for the church requires (involves) a learning center which reflects the beliefs, values and traditions of the brotherhood. A deep commitment to the supporting church will help the college to train leaders who will (1) understand and appreciate the church; (2) dedicate their gifts to the church; (3) demonstrate competence in transmitting biblical truths; (4) understand the biblical bases for faith, behavior and witness; and (5) witness to the church in areas where it is not faithful to the biblical message.

In “Implementation,” the most specific section of the statement, we read, “Because of its stated commitment to a Believer’s Church understanding of Christianity and the Church, Tabor will encourage the process of maintaining clarity of its institutional identity and mission. In other words, Tabor will define its uniqueness and its work toward the incarnation of its distinctives. Ideological clarity and continuity of vision and mission are intended to build a community of scholars with a common purpose, open communication, and loyalty to the Bible and its teachings.”

The full statement has been accepted by the Faculty and Administrative Committee and has been studied by the Board. Presently it is in its final revision by appointed members of the Board and Administration. Meanwhile, the Future of the College Committee is centering discussion on further matters, such as “Nature of the Student Body.”

Also during the 1976/77 school year the Administrative Committee and the Chairmen of Divisions of the academic program participated in a year-long seminar. Since the seminar, taught by a professor from Kansas State University, dealt with management, it was natural that we would spend a good deal of time working with the future of Tabor College. We worked with the strong notion that the future need not be simply accepted; it can to a large extent be structured and planned.

Basing our work on a technique of Burns and McNamera, we assembled, first separately, and then as a larger group, a list of over 100 assumptions regarding the nature of our environment in the coming ten years. Again, we began with the larger scene; “The World,” and worked toward the assumptions which dealt most directly with Tabor. Some of the assumptions were as follows:

Efficiency and economics will require Tabor to consider cooperation and/or merger with others.

Tabor faculty will become more concerned about the rural isolation of Tabor. {37}

Mennonite Brethren Churches will attract a greater percentage of its new membership from the population who are not ethnic Mennonites.

With our assumptions in mind, and under the direction of Dr. Eddy Van Meter we began to write Tabor scenarios. A scenario, simply stated, is an attempt to forecast as accurately and succinctly as possible what Tabor will (should) be like in ten years. Each person in the group designed his own scenarios. Then, as a group, variations were considered. Creativity was at a premium as we thought together of what the Tabor of the future might look like. The scenarios generally revolved around seven topics:

  • Location of Campus
  • Affiliation
  • Core Curriculum
  • Finances
  • Program Emphases
  • Nature of the Student Body
  • Philosophical/Theological Focus

As an example of our thinking, under Affiliation the following were among the suggestions offered: “Merger was proposed with several schools—“X” Mennonite College (with possibly two campuses); “XX” College, since the constituency is thought to be compatible; Fresno Pacific, in which case the location might be Denver. Satellite campuses were considered, as also a residential community affiliated with a State University, allowing for dual degree programs. Under Program Emphasis the group stated: “Inner city witness and service, vocational training especially in business and education, as well as in the recreational area were projected as future strengths. There was some thought of geriatrics as a focus, but not in the rural Hillsboro setting. An international concern focusing on Latin America was included in several of the scenarios. Serving minorities was suggested, but not unequivocally. Continuing Education was strongly emphasized in several of the reports, especially relating to the major constituency.”

The scenarios provide material useful to further planning by the College and its Board. The Tabor Board and Board of Education have been exposed to the ideas of the scenarios. They will continue to be useful as the Board of Education plans for the future of the United States program of Christian Higher Education.

Another important item in the life of the college should be mentioned. This is the work of the Study Commission for Higher Education set up by the Board of Education following the U. S. Conference sessions in September. The Board of Education, reporting to the Conference, indicated their own feelings that both colleges are needed and that resources are available. At the same time they stated the program cannot continue without stronger support than has been {38} shown in the past. While the Commission has just begun its work, its report will be of great significance to the college.

The above provides some idea of work and study currently being done at Tabor. The future is being studied and shaped. Again and again we were forced to re-examine the stated goals and objectives of the college. This is as it should be. Unless our work has meaning, unless it grows out of the needs for the brotherhood and its youth, we should not plan for the future, but plan instead for closing the doors. On the other hand, if the college has reason for existence, if it meets the needs of the brotherhood and of students, there will probably be students to populate the halls and there will be funding from those who believe in the program and the product of the college.

Joel A. Wiebe
Director of Institutional Advancement
Tabor College
Hillsboro, Kansas

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